Jason Aldean‘s Saturday Night Live debut was a moving tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. It was his first public appearance following the tragedy.
The 2017 CMT Artist of the Year was a surprise musical guest for the Oct. 7 episode hosted by Wonder Woman actress, Gal Gadot.
Before covering “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Aldean delivered a speech on unity and healing to address the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, which occurred during his Oct. 1 set at the festival.
“This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history,” he said on SNL. “Like everyone, I’m struggling to understand what happened that night, and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal. So many people are hurting and they’re our children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends. They’re all part of our family.
“I want to say to them, we hurt for you and we hurt with you,” he added. “You can be sure we’re going to walk through these tough times together, every step of the way. Because when America is at its best, our bond and our spirit, it’s unbreakable.”
Fifty-eight people were killed and 489 were injured when gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire on the crowd of 22,000 fans during Aldean’s set at Route 91. Authorities found Paddock dead in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel 400 yards away from the festival across Las Vegas Boulevard. The three-day event was sold out.
Aldean canceled three shows in California following the shooting. His They Don’t Know Tour resumes Oct. 12.
Aldean will be honored along with the 2017 CMT Artists of the Year Chris Stapleton, Floria Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Keith Urban when the 90-minute special airs live from Nashville on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET.